Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Mitt Romney's painfully bad week

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 10:45 AM EDT, Mon July 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Mitt Romney's difficult week pointed to a key aspect of his campaign
  • He says Romney desperately needs support of white working-class vote
  • That demographic group is most likely to be put off by outsourcing, Frum says
  • Frum: Romney's effort to dissociate himself from Bain put him in an odd position

Editor's note: David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, "Patriots."

(CNN) -- By any measure, the Mitt Romney for president campaign has had a painfully bad week. What went wrong?

The bad news began Wednesday. That day, Romney addressed the NAACP convention in Houston. The speech was poorly received, so much so that Romney, in an interview that afternoon on Fox Business, told host Neil Cavuto that he had "expected" boos. Some interpreted that comment as proof that Romney had actually wanted to be booed by the NAACP in order to rev up elements of the conservative base.

The Romney campaign next reacted by whispering to the Drudge Report (which acts as a kind of message board for Romney) that it was seriously considering Condoleezza Rice as a running mate. That story excited the press for half a day, until reporters remembered two hard realities: Party conservatives won't accept a pro-choice running mate, and Rice has made repeated public statements of lack of interest in the VP job.

David Frum
David Frum

The NAACP story probably moved few votes. But it's interesting in its own right -- and as a warning of the bigger trouble that hit the campaign on Thursday.

Gillespie: Romney retroactively retired

The NAACP incident shows a hyperactive campaign war room, overcorrecting one way ("the boos are no big deal; everything's going according to plan!") and then overcorrecting the other way ("we weren't trying to generate TV images of racial confrontation; why, look, here's Condi Rice!"), spinning and counterspinning without any forethought for how this hour's aggressive statement would sound when the next hour's realities arrived.

And it was that "win the hour" mentality that got the Romney campaign into much more serious trouble when the Obama campaign launched a big push on Romney's business record the next day.

Gergen: Obama's charges vs. Romney don't hold up

Thursday morning, the Obama campaign released a tough ad attacking the record of downsizing and outsourcing at Romney's old firm, Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign reacted with outrage. That same day, it announced a multimillion-dollar purchase of airtime for an ad that bluntly accused President Obama of lying.

In support of the ad, Romney's team argued that he had left Bain Capital in February 1999; the incidents alluded to by the Obama campaign all occurred after that date and had nothing to do with Romney.

Wham. The first attack on Romney had been a jab, dropping Romney's guard against the haymaker: On Friday, the Obama team counter-charged that it was Romney who was lying in his ads or who had committed a felony, lying on 140 official forms that he signed as CEO and sole shareholder of Bain between 1999 and 2002.

Romney now chased the Obama story, granting five TV interviews to reiterate his version of events. The more he talked, the more deeply into trouble he sank. By Sunday, even Romney supporters were urging the thing he wants least: release of more income tax returns.

And here again, what got Romney into the trouble was his war room. It was the too-fierce response to Attack 1 -- the adamant insistence that Romney had nothing, nothing to do with anything that happened at Bain after February 1999 -- that set up Romney for Attack 2: Did he lie on SEC forms? And now he will struggle through the rest of the election trying to reconcile his answers. Yes, it is technically true that Romney ended his operational role at Bain before he ended his titular role. It was also technically true (as Josh Marshall points out) that John Kerry did vote for the $87 billion before he voted against it.

Romney's core problem is this: He heads a party that must win two-thirds of the white working-class vote in presidential elections to compensate for its weakness in almost every demographic category. The white working class is the most pessimistic and alienated group in the electorate, and it especially fears and dislikes the kind of financial methods that gained Romney his fortune.

Romney has a strong potential defense: Bain was in the business of making companies more efficient and profitable. Downsizing and outsourcing were necessary -- and often indispensable -- means to that end. In a growing economy, the workers who lost their jobs should find new jobs elsewhere, and it's precisely the relentless search for profitability that causes economies to grow in the first place.

That's an argument that, to borrow an old joke of Henry Kissinger's, is not only convincing but has the additional merit of being true. However, it's not an argument that appeals much to the voters Romney most intensely needs to win. Hence his unleashing of the war room -- but in the end, there's only so much a war room can do. And this time, by trying to do too much, the Romney war room may have blasted its own side with lethal friendly fire.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT